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The José Limón International Dance Festival, Program A at the Joyce….

October 19, 2015
José Limón & Betty Jones in José Limón’s “The Moor's Pavane” from 1949. Photo: Barrat

jeanJosé Limón & Betty Jones in José Limón’s “The Moor’s Pavane” from 1949. Photo: Barrat

José Limón Dance Company is approaching its 70th Anniversary and in celebration the José Limón Dance Foundation are bringing to New York professional companies and important schools from abroad and the U.S. for a Grand Celebration of the works of the legendary choreographer, for two weeks, October 13 – 25, 2015 at the Joyce Theater.

Program A began with José Limón’s 1958 work, Mazurkas, set to the music of Frédéric Chopin  and performed live by Pianist Michael Cherry. Is Mazurkas destined to become one of my favorite works by Limón? No, it is not…Simplicity in a dance can be wonderful especially as today’s young choreographers have begun exploring new ways to use the body in space, expanding and reinterpreting the body’s reaction/relationship to music, redefining the concept of what is a score for a dance…I have come to refer and see this as the budding of a post-contemporary phase of dance.

Mazurkas were just too simple in its composition, repetitive in the way that the body was used in space and to the point it became predictable as the dance progressed. Also, the 47 minutes it took to perform the dance, I think would have been much more powerful in both content and message at 20 minutes…and according to the lobby buzz at intermission; I was not alone in that thought.

Mr. Limón composed these dances after a visit to Post-war Poland in 1957 and as a tribute to the heroic spirit of the Polish people. So, with that said and being aware of what tragedy and the  turbulence of that error I expected a dance that had more passion, something more expressive, something more rebellious, something a little angry.

The Moor’s Pavane is perhaps one of Limón’s best known works. The work was first performed in 1949 at the American Dance Festival and is subtitled Variations on the Theme of Othello. The dance is not intended to be seen as a choreographed version of the Shakespeare play. Presented in the form of the Pavane and other dancers of the high Renaissance, the legend is told of the hapless Moor, his wrongly suspected wife, the Moor’s treacherous friend and the treacherous friend’s  wife. The four characters portray the tragedy of Everyman, and the ballet, is timeless in its implications. The work has been cited by critics the world over as Limón’s “masterpiece”.

There is timelessness to this work that transcends in and of itself. My introduction to The Moor’s Pavane was in 1984 at the Gershwin Theater with Rudolf Nureyev as the Moor and joined by Stephanie Saland and Jean Guizerix. I remember being held transfixed by both the work and the dancers’ performances…

Francisco Ruvalcaba gave a superb performance as The Moor and Durell Comedy played well The Moor’s Friend. Mr. Comedy let us know at the start that he had his own agenda and his real friendship with Mr. Ruvalcaba was questionable.

The brilliance of The Moor’s Pavane is seeing the interplay between the four dancers. Kathryn Alter as The Moor’s Friend’s Wife portrayed a character torn between being truthful to her husband’s wishes and her friendship with The Moor’s Wife, Logan Kruger. Ms. Kruger was truly bewildered by her husband’s charges of betrayal and his refusal to believe her account that both of them were being deceived.

José Limón Dance Company with Guest Dancers in José Limón’s 1958 work ”Missa Brevis” Photo: Scott Groeller

José Limón Dance Company with Guest Dancers in José Limón’s 1958 work ”Missa Brevis” Photo: Scott Groeller

It is just a great dance and valuable piece of dance history. It has often been referred to as a theater-dance piece than an actually dance or ballet because of the actor skills it requires. The dancers give subtle nuances and quick side glances, the tilt of a head as well as who or what is the dancer’s focus. It has been 66 years since its premiere and the work is still being seen around the world.  The Moor’s Pavane has been in the repertoire of the American Ballet Theater since 1970.

José Limón’s Missa Brevis was first performed in 1958 at The Juilliard School of Music. Missa Brevis is Latin for “short Mass”. The term usually refers to a mass composition that is short because part of the text of the Mass ordinary that is usually set to music in a full mass is left out, or because its execution time is relatively short.

The score for this work is, Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli (“A Short Mass in Time of War”), written by the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly in 1945. The work takes a large cast so guest dancers performed alongside the Limón’s company dancers.

Mr. Limón played with geometric arcs and lines in the piece as groups of dancers moved in precise straight lines cross the stage while others would form arcs around them. Dancers would step into these arcs, 3 or 4 dancers at a time jumping with joyful full body movements, each with a sense of exhilaration. At other times the bodies would collapse to the floor as if an unseen weight has inexplicably descended upon them.

Strongly evident is the idea of rise and fall found in the Humphrey/Limón’ technique. The concepts of the Humphrey/Limón technique explores the natural movement patterns of the body and its relation to gravity.

Being given the opportunity to see both José Limón’s Missa Brevis and The Moor’s Pavane was indeed an embarrassment of riches to any dance lover and fan of dance history. I cannot recommend strong enough for you to try to make it a priority to attend part or all of the programs being offered by the José Limón International Dance Festival which will be running for two weeks, Oct. 13 – 25, 2015 at the Joyce Theater.


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